Three hundred and sixty five days have passed us by since I landed in London worried and several hours late that eventful day (thanks to the extreme heat in Australia delaying take-off), suddenly changing my flight destination from Gothenburg (a couple of hours north of Halmstad) to Copenhagen in Denmark (which is a couple of hours south) to at least regain some lost time. Fifty two full weeks have gone since I held the love of my life in my arms and knew that it was finally over – after two years of dating with half the world between us (only seeing each other once each year), we would never have to be apart for a long period of time ever again. Twelve months have gone by since I said goodbye to my parents, sisters, future brothers-in-law, friends and colleagues, as well as the never-ending heat of the Australian summer sun and those glorious beaches.
It’s been a whole year since I moved to Sweden, and it’s been one of the strangest and most unpredictable years of my life. Approximately nothing went according to plan, but I guess that’s been the fun of it all. My Swedish language skills are still very basic. My job is unstable and I’m only just earning enough to survive. My integration into Swedish society has been a bumpy bureaucratic road on which we are still travelling, but it is slowly coming together. However, I have grown to love the people and the place, and I was lucky enough to go on an amazing road trip around Sweden in which I saw various sides of the country from the big cities to the endless forests and lakes of the north (for pictures and stories from that trip, start here). I’ve made some great friends, learned about some fascinating history and culture, and 2014 by far was one of the most memorable years of my life.
Immigrating has to be one of the weirdest and hardest things you can do, especially when moving to a country with a very different culture and language (had I moved from Australia to England, say, it would have been a lot easier. Mind you, I might move to England (Or Scotland) down the track anyway. But that’s much later). That feeling of nothing at all being familiar takes getting used to, but you also have to go through the process of distancing yourself from your old country to an extent because if you try to stay in both worlds mentally and emotionally you’ll just burn out. At the start of my time here I kept checking on Australian news and I tried to keep up with what all my friends were up to all the time. In the end, I stopped paying attention to the news (which I got in some ways through the few Aussies I have on my Twitter, and in other ways through friends who text me or my mother who likes to chat while playing Wordfeud games against me). I stopped going on Facebook so much, because where my blogging and Twitter is mostly connecting to people all around the world, my Facebook is almost entirely Australian – I have all but quit that site now. It’s not that I don’t care for a lot of those people – many of them have been in my life for over a decade – but I think as a human being we don’t have unlimited energy for others. I try to get news about lots of people from a smaller minority, I guess, and when I go back to visit Australia (likely in May for my sister’s wedding) I’ll get a chance to catch up with those people properly then. It’s something I have to accept – I can only do so much when I’m 18 000 kilometres away. Besides, as I draw dangerously near my thirties, a lot of my friends are heading off in their own directions anyway which makes me wonder how different it would have all have been if I stayed.
As I have slowly learned to let Australia go a little, it has given me more energy to embrace Sweden properly. I’ve stopped being frustrated by the overwhelming introversion of the populace and started to find it quite endearing. I’ll give you an example of what I mean here: in Australia, before I became a teacher, I worked many years in retail in a supermarket in a wide variety of positions, many of them lower levels of management. We used to make a big point there of encouraging the staff on the checkouts to talk to the customer – not just hello, but asking them how their day was, talking to them about something, anything really. If I was on the checkouts I used to try and see how many bad jokes I could tell on any one day, and silly things like that. Anyway, I digress. In Sweden, the people here are so shy they only say hello and then at the end tell you the price. What’s more, if they did strike a conversation, most Swedes would be horrified and wouldn’t even know what to do. The idea of talking to somebody you don’t know when you have no reason to is not something that crosses most Swedes’ minds. If you stand in line waiting for a bus, don’t be surprised if the next person stands a good metre or so away from you at least, just to ensure no conversations strike up and personal space is preserved. And in apartment blocks, it’s not unusual for tenants to glance out of their peep-holes into the stairwells before leaving, to avoid the terrifying event in which they should bump into and have to talk to their neighbours! It’s funny, because I have brought it up with a lot of people here and they all giggle and admit it is true before saying that they wish it wasn’t. But it is, and if you come from a more extroverted country like Australia or many parts of America it does take some getting used to, but it’s good to remember that they don’t mean any offense by it and there are certainly positive aspects to it all as well.
There are other things about the country I have grown to love. I actually like the wild differences in daylight hours – in Winter we only get about 7 hours of daylight, while in Summer we get more like 18 or 19 hours a day (and up in the Northern most parts it’s more extreme, with total sunlight in Summer and total darkness in Winter just about). But there is something nice about wandering around at night in Winter, especially when it’s snowed (something it hasn’t done too much of, sadly, but I have had a bit of snow to lose my balance on). Likewise, going out for dinner and then coming out to several hours of more light is pretty cool in Summer, and despite how much the sun is in the sky I don’t ever have to worry about experiencing the extreme heat that Australia has ever again – Swedish Summer is actually everything I like about summer: mildly warm long days. I also like the welfare system here overall – not that I am getting much out of it myself, but I feel like it is a much better system than many around the world. In fact, a lot of things in the country do work quite well. Internet is cheap and amazingly fast (5th best internet in the world, apparently, compared to Australia at number 44 in the rankings…awkies). Transport is expensive but very reliable and quite comfortable overall. The health system, from what I have seen, works well. I quite like the education system from what I understand about it and what I have experienced – even if it is far from perfect and many argue far from what it once was, there are a lot of good things happening in education here.
There are a few dislikes, of course. Alcohol is a pain to buy (all the bottle shops are run by a government controlled chain…so weird) and impossible to buy on Sundays without going to a pub, and drinking at a pub is insanely expensive. The food here is up and down – I have eaten a lot of great food but a lot of restaurants have very boring menus as well. Surprisingly, the most boring food menus I have discovered so far were in Stockholm – along the entire waterfront was a string of restaurants which all offered the same things that every typical Swedish place offers. On the whole, eating out here is a little bit more expensive than I’m used to back in Australia, although groceries probably cost a little less so eating at home is cheaper. Dangerously, chocolate is a lot cheaper here. And of course, my biggest dislike of all is the slippery ice – I make Bambi look graceful!
However, everything I have been through, everything I feel about the country, the ups and the downs – they are all worth it for one very big reason! I have spent a full year with the girl of my dreams, and today is also our three year anniversary! This year is going to bring even bigger things for us, some of which I will be sharing with you guys when they happen. But to say this might be the biggest year of my life is probably an understatement – I’ll leave it at that for now.
Now, if you’d excuse me, I have to go and cook a Saffron and Lemon Chicken dish for dinner (I’m completely out of my comfort zone cooking Persian food like this but I’m confident I can make this a heck of an anniversary dinner. And if all else fails there’s Ben & Jerry’s ice cream for dessert, so, you know…). Also, yes, we are taking pictures of it and I will be putting this one up on my recipe blog some time next week.
Year two of my Swedish life….bring it on!